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What to Know About Sternum Piercings

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 30, 2021

Sternum piercings are a type of body modification. They involve piercing the skin over your sternum, also known as your breastbone. A sternum piercing can be a unique way to change your appearance, but you need to take care of the piercing so it doesn’t get infected. Here’s what you need to know about how it can affect your health.

What Are Sternum Piercings?

A sternum piercing is a pair of decorative holes in the skin over your sternum. Some are placed vertically between the pectoral muscles, while others are horizontal and placed near the collarbones. These piercings are filled with a staple-shaped barbell rod that connects the two holes under the skin. 

Because of how much skin is affected by these long rod piercings, a sternum piercing may take longer to heal than an eyebrow or ear piercing. However, it should be fully healed after about 6 to 12 weeks.

Impact of Sternum Piercings on Your Health

Like any other type of piercing, you need to care of your sternum piercing correctly or you can face infections and health problems. All piercings are considered open wounds, so they need proper wound care to heal correctly.

Any new piercing will feel slightly sore to the touch. You may also notice:

  • ‌Itchiness
  • Minor redness or bruising in the area
  • ‌Slight clear or white fluid oozing out of the holes
  • ‌Minor bleeding from the piercing

‌All of these symptoms are normal and will go away as the sternum piercing heals.

Doing your sternum piercing at home or working with a poorly-trained piercer can cause problems with your body modification. You may get an infection if your piercing isn’t clean.

If your piercing gets infected, it will hurt even when nothing is touching it. Other symptoms of infection include:

  • Thick or smelly discharge that’s green, yellow, or gray
  • ‌The skin around the piercing feels hot to the touch
  • ‌Bright red or pink skin around the piercing
  • ‌Nausea
  • ‌Vomiting
  • ‌Chills
  • ‌Fever

‌If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor right away.

How to Get a Safe Sternum Piercing

If you want to get a sternum piercing safely, you should make sure you work with a trained professional piercer. There are multiple licensing programs throughout the US that train people to pierce people safely and clean their piercing tools and space. You can ask your piercer if they have a license or piercing certificate in your state before you commit to the body modification.

You should also make sure that your piercing parlor is clean. Your piercer should wear new disposable gloves for every piercing and should sterilize their tools after every use. If you’re not sure about whether your piercer is using safe methods, it’s better to go to a different piercer than risk an infection.

Getting your piercing is a quick process:

  • ‌Your piercer will clean the area you want to be pierced and mark where you want each hole.
  • ‌They will use a sterile needle and push it through the entry hole and out the exit hole.
  • ‌They will hold the skin in place and insert the barbell through those holes.
  • ‌Finally, they’ll put a bead on either end of the barbell to hold it in place.

Once you feel okay, your piercer will give you information about caring for your piercing. Follow their instructions on how to wash and protect your new sternum piercing so it heals quickly and without any infections.

Unlike other types of piercings, changing your sternum piercing jewelry doesn’t involve removing the post. The barbell will remain in your skin. All you need to do is unscrew the balls off the end of your barbell and screw on new ones.

How to Help Your Sternum Piercing Heal

After leaving the piercing parlor, keeping your piercing clean and healthy is your job. Here’s how to help your sternum piercing heal at home:

Don’t touch your piercing: Touching your new piercing with unwashed hands before it heals is the best way to get an infection. Avoid touching your piercing unless you’re cleaning it. If you can, keep clothes and fabric from touching it until it’s healed.

Clean your piercing daily: Infections happen when bacteria gets to your piercing. Cleaning it regularly helps prevent that from happening. Gently wipe the area around your piercing with an antiseptic soap and warm water, then rinse with water. You can do this in the shower.

Use a saline compress: Mix one cup of comfortably hot water with a teaspoon of table salt to create a saline solution. You can soak a clean washcloth in this solution and use it as a compress over your sternum piercing to soften any crusted material and reduce swelling.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

‌American Academy of Family Physicians: “Complications of Body Piercing.”

‌Cleveland Clinic: “What to Expect When Getting Your Ears Pierced.”

Hudson, K. Living Canvas: Your Total Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification, Seal Press, 2009.

‌MAYO CLINIC: “Piercings: How to prevent complications.”

‌National Conference of State Legislatures: “Tattooing and Body Piercing | State Laws, Statutes and Regulations.”

‌NHS: “Infected piercings.”

‌UC Berkeley: “Body Piercings: Cleaning and Healing.”

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